Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat: there is a distinct difference between Guitar Hero and DJ Hero . It goes well beyond the type of music and plastic interactive instruments; it’s about the interaction itself. In the long-running Guitar Hero , one simply plays what one is given (for the most part). In DJ Hero , one has more control over the music and presentation and herein lies the biggest appeal of the new “Hero” series. This really isn’t my kind of music but I can certainly appreciate the level of creativity and imagination required to get the most out of this experience, and with the new freestyle elements in DJ Hero 2 , fans of the original ought to be happy. We’ve moved well beyond doing a bit of scratching and tapping buttons and although I still don’t think the added enhancements are enough to make it better than the first effort, it’s still worth your time.
Graphics are hardly the central focus and in reality, I shouldn’t spend much time on the subject. The visuals are flashy and seem to have their very own flair, something you don’t necessarily find in other music-based games. There’s a ton of color and hot special effects to go along with your scratching and mixing, and I liked the diverse sets and character customization options. The latter is pretty standard but it’s still worth mentioning. Animations remain mostly smooth and fluid throughout and despite a few small hitches (a little strange in such a title, but they were very rare), it’s a solid, accomplished set of graphics. There’s not much else to say; I suppose I could nitpick by saying that if one got up-close-and-personal with certain backdrops, they’d come away unimpressed but really, who cares?
The sound, on the other hand, is quite a different matter. If this category doesn’t go big, the entire production fails. But you needn’t worry about that because all 83 of the professionally implemented tracks are clear, well-balanced, and nicely maintained. Of course, there’s a large amount of subjectivity, too: if you’re more into rock, you probably won’t care about DJ Hero 2 ’s technical prowess because hip-hop and dance just isn’t your bag. But I can’t imagine any fan of the genre(s) coming away disappointed, because the track selection is packed with recognizable tunes and features a good amount of variety. You’ve got over 100 different artists here, ranging from David Guetta to Eminem and just about everyone in between; this soundtrack ranks right up there with some of the best assembled in music video games. Again, I’m speaking from a technical and balance standpoint as I don’t care much about the genres in question. Just trying to be fair.
It’s all about the added control. We have to leave the innovation behind because all that was accomplished with the first game, but the designers have worked to improve the overall feel of immersion and control over one’s creativity. As you rip through one of your favorite songs, you will soon notice that this time around, you’ll have to pull off some freestyle scratching of your own design. “Woah…they’re asking for freestyle cross-fading here; what do I do…?” That might be your first reaction simply because you’re not used to acting like a real DJ. On the other hand, if you’ve always wanted to be a true-blue DJ and have envisioned yourself driving a massive party forward with the skill of your hand, you’ll appreciate this twist. Plus, rather than just tossing in repetitive samples like they did before, your freestyle sample will feature a certain aspect of the track itself, so it feels more realistic and ultimately, more satisfying.
I had to wait for someone to help me test the multiplayer (which a certain someone did, if begrudgingly), so I spent a good deal of time with the single-player Empire Mode. This is where you create your own character and move forward to establish your “Empire;” this requires dedication, honing your craft, and a lot of travel between gigs. Now, in my eyes, this should be just as much of a highlight as the multiplayer but it just doesn’t feel that way. I really couldn’t play for very long without getting bored, because I sort of kept doing the same thing over and over. There just wasn’t much variety; all I did was sit there and perform some tracks I was asked to perform. I would sometimes come up against a mano y mano throwdown with professional DJs but these were only slightly more invigorating. I mean, I always liked the attention to detail and relative freedom but the structure of the campaign simply felt too thin.
That’s probably the main reason why the sequel doesn’t break into the elite 9+ range. The original had the aforementioned innovation and of course, was the first in the series, so the whole thing just felt fresher. But perhaps I’m being too hard on DJ Hero 2, in this respect. Clearly, this, like most any music-based video game, is all about the multiplayer component; getting some friends around you and just tearing it up during an entertaining evening. I get that. And when it comes to this, the game won’t let you down. This is the single biggest improvement over the original; the developers realized what the primary focus should be, and made DJ Hero 2 a great fixture at any party. It’s not just about going against someone in a classic Versus showdown, you can also invite someone else to test their vocal skills on the microphone, and it’s gonna be quite the test. Just ‘cuz you’re singing doesn’t mean you won’t have to improv and be all spontaneous like the mixers; the songs just won’t allow static singing.
It’s also really cool that another turntable can hop in whenever, which means you and a group of buddies can continually shift about, giving everyone a turn to try new things…and all within the same song. The new Battle Mode is a cool addition, too, and the bottom line is that while the first DJ Hero was sort of, “hey, look at me, isn’t this sweet?” the sequel is like, “gather everyone around…let’s get this sh** started.” Now, I still say the learning curve might be a touch too high and the game isn’t exactly lenient, which may drive away the casual players who usually flock to the music genre. This creates a barrier that isn’t found in Guitar Hero and Rock Band , in my opinion, as even simple stuff in DJ Hero 2 might take a lot of practice. Then again, if you’re used to this kind of thing, you’ll probably adapt quickly and get plenty of satisfaction in a short span of time.
DJ Hero 2 is a great follow-up that finds its identity. It nails down its position as a multiplayer-oriented (and thus, party-oriented) game and succeeds beautifully. Still, there’s a part of me that resents the lacking single-player campaign, and the learning curve may prove frustrating (or maybe it’s just me). And every once in a great while, I’d question the responsiveness and reliability of the hardware. But besides that, the fantastic sound, nicely assembled track list, enhanced freedom via new freestyle elements, and above all else, the fun that can be had by a group of people, wins out. If this is your kind of music and you want to become a more involved participant, DJ Hero 2 should be on your holiday wish list.
The Good: Excellent soundtrack with awesome variety. Technically slick and proficient. Multiplayer gets a huge boost; is now the main appeal. New freestyle and vocal elements enhance depth and immersion. Creativity and skill are rewarded.
The Bad: Seriously lacking single-player option. Some scratching maneuvers can be tough to master, and vocals aren’t easy.
The Ugly: If you hate this sort of music, the whole thing is ugly. If you love this sort of music…nothing here is ugly.